Jagalchi Market

September 21, 2009

Last Thursday I had the day off due to student testing, so I met a friend at Jagalchi market, the largest fish market in South Korea, which is right here in Busan. I had some time to kill before the friend arrived, so I walked to the nearby park and went to the top of Busan Tower:

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The view from the “observatory” was fantastic; here’s a whole series:

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NOTE: many of these pictures are done grave injustice by this blog’s restrictive parameters. I still have yet to find a decent-looking format that will display pictures at acceptable quality.

…back to Jagalchi. But first, one last picture, this one from the waterfront:

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Jagalchi might be my favorite place in Busan thusfar. It is redolent of saltwater and the morning catch, some of which has been strung up to dry in the sun, and some of which is still very much alive; the odor of fish is pungent, but it does not stink. Everything is off-the-boat fresh. There is an indoor area and an outdoor area, and I much prefer the outdoor area for its seediness, and it just feels more authentic. As we walk amongst the stalls, there are tables “packed to the gills” (sorry) with bright pink fish, many of which may still be technically, biologically, alive, but whose eyes bulge lifelessly out of their heads like big, bulbous, glass marbles:

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There are long, thin fish with ghastly teeth. There are squid. There is an enormous turtle in a plastic tub. There are crabs waving their claws hopelessly skyward from inside sawdust-filled boxes. Some of the creatures look positively antediluvian, like prehistoric deep-sea-mud-dwelling fossils dredged from god knows what depths. At one of the stalls, an octopus throws some tentacles over the rim of a bucket, heaves itself up, and plops onto the pavement. It has the audacity and the spirit of a cephalopodian Papillon, but as it begins to lurch its way towards freedom, an old woman scoops it up and drops it back into its bucket. It was one of these brave octopi:

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There are old men and woman everywhere, gutting and scaling on a wooden blocks with weathered, razor-sharp blades.

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We stop at one of the stalls for some eel. We sit down at the outside table, the center of which becomes a charcoal grill. A man, this man:

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selects a live eel from a tank, nails it to the cutting board through its eye, and starts to slice and chop away. The chunks of eel meat are then dipped into water and brought to the grill, where they wriggle and writhe momentarily over the open flame before their automatic nerve motion ceases and they and turn a nice, fluffy white, bespeckled with black char marks:

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There are some vegetables, sweet potatoes, peanuts, quail eggs, and another whole fish (though I don’t have a clue what kind) to snack on while we wait.

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These tongs are pointing to the eel’s heart, which is still palpitating furiously right in front of our eyes as it cooks.

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ENHANCE:

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Slap some spicy sauce on that and we’re good to go:

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Eel does not have a strong flavor at all. It is somehow light but meaty, and it makes for a delicious lunch. After we finish, we realize that one of us must have eaten the heart. We had forgotten all about it, but it was there, and we ate… well, everything…

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